The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have implemented machine learning in the X-62A VISTA test aircraft, which can mimic the characteristics of other aircraft, and conducted tests in the air, The Register reports.

The X-62A Variable Stability Test Aircraft in a Flight Simulator, or VISTA, is actually a modified F-16 fighter jet controlled by artificial intelligence that has previously made several test flights to demonstrate the capabilities of its artificial pilot.

The AI algorithm analyzes data in real time to make quick decisions in the air, allowing it to fight real enemies and react quickly to their maneuvers.

After the initial tests, a number of safety protocols were developed to avoid mid-air collisions and a test flight and battle with another aircraft was conducted. The X-62A had a real pilot on board with the ability to disable the AI if it made a critical error.

First, various defensive maneuvers were tested, followed by a simulation of an air-to-air combat with another F-16 in the sky over Edwards Air Force Base in California.

During the simulated battle, the AI-piloted aircraft and its conventionally piloted opponent approached each other at a distance of about 600 meters, which seems like a sufficient distance until you realize that they were traveling at a speed of about 1900 kilometers per hour.

The US Air Force claims that the test pilots did not have to use any safety systems during the tests, which means that artificial intelligence is fully capable of fighting on its own in the sky.

DARPA has been testing AI agent software for aircraft piloting for several years. The Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program was launched in 2020. During the AlphaDogfight tests, pilots faced off against artificial intelligence in a flight simulator.

The AI won this competition, but it had the advantage of being allowed to fly at a speed that would overstrain a real airplane, which would pose a danger to the pilot.

“The potential for autonomous air-to-air combat has been imaginable for decades, but the reality has remained a distant dream up until now,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. “In 2023, the X-62A broke one of the most significant barriers in combat aviation. This is a transformational moment, all made possible by breakthrough accomplishments.”